Thank you for all of your outreach so far! I have been overwhelmed with your support and kind words. For those of you who would still like to donate, I am collecting money until June 3, 2013. After that, construction will begin and I will be blogging about the progress. Any additional money raised will be used to sustain an adult literacy program for two years, textbooks for Day Star Academy and a small library with story books for the children. If you did not read my previous post, please take a look here.
Dear Family, Friends and Interested Acquaintances,
For the past seven months I have been living in Kasoa, Ghana, working with a small Ghanaian NGO, Cheerful Hearts Foundation (CHF), whose main mission is to rescue children sold into labor in fishing communities by their families who are too poor to feed, clothe and house them. CHF rescues these children, returns them to their families and pays for their schooling so that the youth of Ghana have the opportunity to break the chain of poverty that causes their families to make such tragic and unhappy decisions. The project has opened my eyes to a world of exploitation and slavery which is commonplace in developing countries but rarely heard about or understood in the developed world. Through countless interviews, days teaching, conversations with strangers and my travels around Ghana, I have begun to see the issue more clearly and understand its causes.
One of the schools CHF supports with volunteers like myself is the Day Star Academy in Senya Beraku, a fishing community where child trafficking is very prevalent. CHF sponsors 13 students at the school and I have formed a close relationship with the students, teachers and headmaster/owner. It is at this school that I organized a cleanup day and where I have been working with the headmaster to minimize their costs and increase their revenue while maintaining a focus on the quality of education offered. Currently the school has about 120 students, 80 of which attend on a regular basis. While Day Star Academy needs more students (school fees) to help boost their ability to purchase supplies, the building is incomplete and rather unsightly. Two of the classrooms don’t have a roof and there are about 30 students without desks. In class 3, the small girls pack 4 people into a desk that is meant for 2. The bathroom is an outdoor pit and also lacks a roof which is even more important now that we have entered the rainy season. Pictures below.
Since my time in Ghana is rapidly coming to an end (at the end of June), I am determined to raise the money needed to complete the school’s roof, the outdoor bathroom roof and purchase enough desks for the current students at Day Star Academy. This would provide such a positive boost for the school and the students and would remind them that there are people around the world who want them to succeed in making a better life for themselves and their families. My goal is to raise $1,000 which will provide:
15 Desks = $221 (approx. 420 Ghana Cedis)
- Wood – $10.52 per desk ($158)
- Nails – $16
- Carpenter – $3.15 per desk ($47)
Roof = $295 (approx. 560 Ghana Cedis)
- 40 Corrugated Tin Roofing Sheets = $190 (Package of 20 roofing sheets cost $95)
- Labour cost = $105 (Will renegotiate for a lower price)
Aesthetics = $221 (approx. 420 Ghana Cedis)
- Plaster – 10 buckets @ $9.47 each ($95)
- Paint – 4 cans @ $18.42 each ($74)
- Labour $52
Total = $737 or 1,400 Ghana Cedis
*All calculations use the conversion of $1USD = 1.90 Ghana Cedis which is variable.
I plan to use the remaining $263 or 500 Ghana Cedis to purchase some important items identified by the staff when we held a meeting: security at the school (classroom doors), 2 chalkboards, start up money for a school farm to help reduce costs associated with feeding children, textbooks, storybooks and help with an adult literacy program to assist parents advance their own education while re-prioritizing their child’s schooling.
The extra money will also give Cheerful Hearts Foundation a little buffer for changes in the exchange rate, and unseen expenses associated with the building improvements. After careful consideration, I have devised two ways of getting the money to me so I can accomplish this project before leaving Ghana:
- Personal check: For those of you who are not concerned with receiving a tax deduction for your donation, I recommend sending a personal check made out to me to my parent’s house. This will bypass all costs of transferring money to Ghana because they will just deposit the money in my checking account and I can withdraw 100% of it at an ATM in Ghana.
- GlobalGiving.org (http://goto.gg/8910): Cheerful Hearts Foundation has a page for our “Stop Child Labour & Trafficking” project on this website. While Global Giving takes 15% of your donation, you will be able to print a receipt for your tax records. Please email me with the date and amount of your donation so I can confirm to my boss that the money was donated for this specific project.
• $25: 2 Desks or 5 Roofing Sheets
• $50: 10 Roofing Sheets or 5 Buckets of Plaster
• $100: 7 Desks or Doors for all Classrooms
• $250: 15 Desks with Exercise Books for all Students
• $500: Complete Roof and Desks for all Students
• $1,000: A completed school and the eternal gratitude of 120 Ghanaian children and myself!
Needless to say, all the money I spend will be accounted for with receipts and photographs. When I return home in July, I will be more than happy to show you exactly where your money was spent and the impact it has made.
Please contact me, JFire13@gmail.com if you would like more information on the project or if you have any suggestions! I encourage you to pass this post along to anyone you know who might be interested in supporting these projects!
Thank you for your support!
This past three weeks has been a very mixed bag regarding achievements and emotions. It is hard to believe that April 2 was exactly six months here in Ghana. During my time I have met some of the best people on this planet and experienced things that I never expected. To say that this adventure has been life changing would be an understatement. Because of these feelings, I have decided to stay for three months following the end of my volunteer term which expired on April 1. Working the extra three months will allow me to better establish the projects I have started and train incoming volunteers in June about the Labour & Trafficking project and the new initiatives. I also want to say that I haven’t forgotten all the people who have offered their support for my projects. In the coming weeks I will be reaching out to all of you asking for your help with financing some projects I have created. Please contact me via email JFire13@gmail.com or on Facebook if you already haven’t done so and are interested in helping!
Three weeks ago the public school teachers in Ghana went on strike for salary issues. Public servants were recently put on a “single spine” salary system and some of the bonuses that were promised to the teachers have not been delivered. When I first arrived at Senya DA Primary to teach, the classrooms were open but the teachers were not teaching and most of the students had gone home. Fortunately I was able to teach a handful of my students who had hung around. The next day I went to Senya expecting the same deal, open building but no lessons. Instead I found that the building was locked and only a few students from the whole school were still in the compound. Four of those students were from my class and I told them that if they wanted to stick around, I would teach. One of the boys looked at me and said, “How will you teach with no chalk?!” I had to laugh! Because of the casual atmosphere of holding a class outside on the steps, I just had them tell me a story about their favorite experience or holiday with their families. This was not as easy as I thought it would be for them. None of them could tell me any stories or memories and would only give me their detailed family history. It made me wonder if they really didn’t have any fond memories with their family or it wasn’t something that they think about or value. After our little “lesson” I visited the houses of my two best students. Since I started teaching here I could always notice a lack of confidence by the students and stories of a home life that doesn’t value education. I wanted to tell these parents that their children were excellent students who could do anything they want if they continue learning with the passion they have shown in my class. More importantly, I wanted to try and give the parents a sense of pride about their children’s accomplishments in school. The public school teachers strike lasted through the next week which meant no teaching for me. Since school has resumed, classes have been wonderful. This past week I was giving my final lesson of the term before the go on vacation for a few weeks. Because the students were preparing to write exams, the rooms had been arranged differently. In the room I teach in, the partition that separates my class and the neighboring class was removed. Their teacher was not conducting a lesson so the entire class was listening and participating in my English lesson. It was nice to have different responses and my students enjoyed having the older kids involved with their lesson.
The other school I teach in, Nali High International School is private and therefore was not involved in the teacher strike. Right now, my students are preparing for their upcoming final exams which will determine if they go to senior high school and if so, which one. Over the past few weeks I reviewed their pitiful mock English exams with them and have really been focusing on reading comprehension. Their mock English exam scores ranged from 50-68% which is terrible but they only need a 70% to be considered excellent. Their scores on the overall test that included all subjects ranged from 11-72%. After reading some of their answers, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that some of these students are doomed. It is a terrible feeling when you realize this even though the student(s) try hard in class and you can tell that they are just not good at taking exams. This depressed feeling carried over to the next week when I was attempting to conduct a reading comprehension lesson with only one book for six students. I looked at the class and said, “This is ridiculous! I am buying new books for all of us by next week.” I don’t know if they were scared, shocked or both but they certainly showed that no teacher had ever bought them a book to use in class. Since then, the English classes have been a joy to teach and I am not struggling to have the class read a story with one book and then for me to dictate the questions to them. Teaching them to use a passage to find the answers is something they have never done but it seems that they are realizing how easy questions can be if you just take the time to find the answer. Like in my other class, there is one student who continues to make it all worth it. She reads very well and can write full stories with ease. It’s hard to see how demoralized and unmotivated she is because there has never been a teacher or individual pushing her, or the other students, to achieve more than they think is possible. I wish I had more time with these students before their exam and I wish that their school and teachers hadn’t given up on them. All I can do now is try to build their literacy skills and confidence and hope it can translate into improved scores on the exam. If not, at least the skills and their belief in themselves will stick with them after they are done schooling.
LABOUR & TRAFFICKING
The past few weeks on the Child Labour &Trafficking project has been a lot of information gathering. While we are still interviewing children who have been trafficked and their families, we noticed that a lot of children have returned to Yeji or we already identified and interviewed most of them in the Senya community. Also, now that the village is familiar with CHF and our interviews/sponsorships we have encountered more and more people who give us false stories in hopes that we will give them money. Some of it is so bad that I can tell people are lying to us even though I can’t understand the language. As a result, we are going to slow down the amount of interviews we are conducting to ensure quality over quantity. I also suggested that we move to the other towns we sponsor students in and reevaluate the trafficking situation there. If nothing else, it will show the community and fishermen that we are still there and still working on this issue. After one of the interviews, we revisited a girl who we interviewed last year. A former Ghanaian volunteer would like to sponsor her to go to school and allow the girl to live in her house so she can help with the family business and taking care of the children. I asked around and this is normal for Ghana. As long as she is going to school and not strenuously working or spending too much time watching the children, I think it is a good idea.
An initiative I have been trying to work on to improve the Labour & Trafficking project is to establish some kind of apprenticeship or training program. In the past three weeks I have been going to observe and evaluate training programs which are offered by the Ghana Education Services Non-Formal Education Division. They all seem to be well run but each face their own different problem. The first is a dressmaking course that teaches women to be seamstresses. It is a three year program but the women need to provide their own sewing machine and tuition. This could easily reach 1,000 Ghana Cedis ($500 USD) which is an enormous amount of money in Senya Beraku. While I was meeting with the supervisor of this program, she introduced me to the facilitator for a training program in catering. This is a two year program where the women learn how to do large scale catering events like weddings and funerals, which are huge in Ghana, and also the traditional decorations for them. This past week I went to find out about an English training course. It seems like a wonderful FREE program except no one attends it! The course is six hours every week and they provide exercise books, training materials and story books for the advanced students. The facilitator also told me that the government has not given the incentives which were promised to the teachers for two years. They are not cash incentives but rather material things like cement, bicycles, sewing machines, roofing sheets, etc. I told him that I can’t provide him with any kind of money or gifts but I can go to the government office and try to put a little more pressure on them to deliver on their promises. Like most things in Ghana that deal with the government, I don’t have high expectations that this will be resolved quickly or at all. In the meantime, Freeman and I will compile a list of candidates who we think would be good for these programs and present the idea to them. For the free English and Fantse (local language) literacy programs, we will enroll those who are interested immediately.
A month or two ago my main focus was setting up a demonstration farm to teach the parents of our sponsored children. They would learn how to farm and be able to raise crops on their own beds to help feed their family and sell on the market. Ideally, this would alleviate some financial strain so they would be able to send more of their children to school instead of Yeji to fish. After meeting with the sub-chief about acquiring 40 acres of land, we realized that even 5 acres was going to be too expensive for our budget. Now, I would like to try and renegotiate with the sub-chief because I don’t think our local coordinator presented the idea to him properly. After discussing it with the coordinator, it sounds like he told the sub-chief that we want to buy the land so we can work it when in reality CHF would not profit from it at all. The hard part is that these chiefs always say they are working for the members of their community but it seems that is only true when there is money to be made from the deal. I want to put pressure on him and the other elders to show them how we are doing this for the people in their community who truly need assistance. Hopefully they can prove that they are really working to better the lives of the people who they represent.
Over the past few weekends I have gone to an Easter celebration on a local beach, two beach resorts and a place called Wli (pronounced vlee) Agorviefe where there is a spectacular waterfall, Wli Falls. On Easter Monday, Ghanaians like to go party on the beach. We organized some people and food and went to a local beach I like to visit during the week. Typically I am the only one on the beach but for this day, there had to be at least 20,000 people there…absolutely crazy. It was great being with so many Ghanaians celebrating in their own way with music, food, drinks, and plenty of dancing. At Wli Falls, two new volunteers and I took a hike to the upper falls which was really beautiful and secluded; exactly what I needed after not being able to take a legit hike in over six months. We also stopped by the monkey sanctuary which I had been to before so they could check it out. The beaches were nice relaxing weekends, one with a new volunteer and the other with Victoria and two new volunteers. It is always hard coming back to Kasoa after these weekends!
In Ghana I have had a lot of conversations about religion. I have also dodged a lot of conversations and questions about religion. A few weeks ago I was in Senya one evening trying to observe the English training class. It turned out that they were on a break that week and I would have to wait to hear from the coordinator. Instead Hayford, our local coordinator, and I went to get a drink. Normally I am in Senya from 10am till 2pm. That day I had gone in the evening because of the class and by the time we got to the spot (bar) it was 5pm. To me, Senya has always been a hot miserable place where I only get glimmers of hope from a few individuals. That evening showed me a different side of Senya, away from the trafficked and depressed children I am in constant contact with. There was a cool breeze coming off the ocean and the fading sun had painted the sky orange and pink. Because of the teachers strike, kids were everywhere laughing and playing and as usual, there was the loud distorted highlife and azonto music which has become the soundtrack of my stay in Ghana flowing into the streets from shops and houses. Two friends joined us at the spot where we began discussing our vision for Hayfords school (the one I organized the cleanup day at). Hayford is a rare find in Ghana. Because of the entrenched poverty in Senya, school fees are collected every morning from the children, about one Ghana Cedi (50 cents). This covers their day at school and a basic lunch. What has impressed me is that Hayford would rather a student come to school and learn than kick them out of school, sack them, for missing school fees. He even has a handful of students who can’t pay but he knows they want to be in school. A lot of the schools I have visited seem to focus more on the money than their real purpose, empowerment through education. After talking about what needs to be done to complete the school building and how to review their finances so teachers’ salaries aren’t delayed, I discussed how I can help and what I expect from the staff and administration. The conversation soon turned to religion when Hayford asked me, “How can a guy who gives as much as you do not believe in god?” I couldn’t help but laugh! After discussing my beliefs or non-beliefs with the group I was amazed at how respectful they were about the things I was saying. I could tell that they didn’t agree with them, but usually I get such strong pushback when it comes to religion that it was nice, for once, to just see them nodding and asking more questions. At one point I compared Hayford with myself. We both believe in education and the power it holds. Both of us believe that you should have access to an education no matter what economic class you were born into and that there are enough resources to educate everyone if we become creative with how we run the school or education system. Similarly, we both think it is worth sacrificing personal wealth or luxuries to make education possible for those who are not in the position to pay for food and education at the same time. I then posed the question, “Why does it matter what I believe in or who I pray to if we are striving to achieve the same thing and try to live our lives as genuinely good people?” The three of them seemed stumped by this. For the first time, I didn’t hear “Because you have to give you life to Christ.” I’m not trying to tell them that their beliefs are wrong or they should believe in what I do but rather I am trying to encourage a tolerance for other beliefs and ways of life. This beautiful evening in a foreign place with amazing friends and such positive energy helped me push away all the clutter in my mind and refocus on what can get done in the coming months.
Like I mentioned in the opening, April 2, 2013 marked six months here in Ghana. To say it has all been easy would be a complete lie. Six months kind of crept up on me and when I realized how long it has been it opened a floodgate of thoughts and feelings. I think it is fair to say that working in the education field and dealing with severely impoverished communities in the developing world is a pretty thankless job most of the time. If it weren’t for the small victories, achievements or interactions each day, I would be absolutely crazy by now. That said, it’s hard to stay focused on what’s possible when the complexity of poverty is something you can’t fully wrap your head around. It’s hard to keep progressing and staying positive when you are inundated with terrible situations, problems, frustrating experiences and people all while trying to maintain a life away from work. It’s hard to deal with people asking for handouts and harassing you day in and day out. Most of all, it’s hard to keep grinding on when you can’t even tell if the individuals you are directly helping are thankful. All of these seem more manageable if there was some kind of support to go along with it. With such a small organization and no other volunteers working on the Labour & Trafficking project with me, there is no one to discuss these issues with or help with project ideas. Not only that but being one of two volunteers who has been here longer than two months puts you in a world of you own. Things are no longer new and no one can really relate to what I have already experienced. Sometimes I laugh because I can see myself in the things the new volunteers do or see but there is no one to share that with or laugh with me. Six months hit and I just felt tired. Tired of being “on” every second of the day. Tired of giving my all to something without any support and without seeing many results. Tired of sweating 24 hours a day, constantly being dirty and waking up to scratch one of my 10 mosquito bites. Tired of the extreme ups and downs which seem to drain you every other day. Tired of not being able to help people who don’t have any support system. Tired of all the external stresses while trying to navigate a relationship with someone special. Tired of being tired.
Ok. Enough complaining…
Around the six month mark something changed. Riding back in a tro-tro from another weekend at the beach, I was looking out the window as usual but everything looked different. It was no longer this crazy, loud, dirty foreign land. I knew where I was. I understand a lot of the conversation around me and feel like I can relate to others because of my experiences and the people I work with. Driving back to Kasoa was, at least for a moment, peaceful. It looked beautiful. It felt like home. While I am constantly reminded that I am an outsider and don’t always feel at home, this was a great feeling to have at such a time.
Even though I feel like I have a lot of arbitrary things to complain about sometimes, I still feel tremendously fortunate. I worked my ass off to get here and have been rewarded with a life changing experience full of new wonderful people, places and perspectives. On top of that, I seem to spend each weekend in a literal paradise whether it is a beach, mountain, rainforest, or barren savannah land. Eventually, I am always reminded of the reasons I am here. Most recently it was from a man named Ahmed. He is the English training class’s facilitator who I mentioned earlier that hasn’t received any kind of compensation for two years. When I spoke with him I could still feel his passion and dedication for teaching his community members. The fact that he hasn’t been paid was only brought up after I was prodding him for more information about the program and how the government sponsors it. He was genuinely upset that attendance in the class was abysmal and wanted to know if I could help to improve it. Speaking to individuals like him and his supervisor who are quietly working on these vital programs is the fuel I need to keep going. There are plenty of nameless and faceless people out there who are selflessly working for others. Finding one and interacting with them is the best gift I could ever receive.
I have to take a moment to thank my family for being so supportive especially in the last six or seven months. Although you guys aren’t here, your thoughts and ideas have influenced a lot of lives through my work in Ghana. Sometimes it is hard to get in contact with each other but I cherish those short late night phone calls I make or waking you up, Sue, early in the morning. At times being this far has been hard and I really miss you all. Thank you for being there and giving me the support and advice I need.
I miss and love you all,
Last week I was mainly focused on teaching and the education system here in Ghana. I firmly believe that education can give you the skills you need to end the cycle of poverty in your family, even if it takes a few generations. However, when this system is dysfunctional or overwhelmed, it can be extremely frustrating!
Last week was challenging. It was challenging for me to remain calm and patient. It was challenging for me not to lecture an assistant headmaster for his incompetence. It was challenging for me not to scream because a library which was donated had not been used in over a month. Through all of this, I learned that my patience level has reached a new high and that you can’t allow yourself to get worked up about systemic problems in the past which you can’t control. Most of my frustration stemmed from teaching at Nali School, the one with a money/teacher shortage. During a math lesson, I had to keep backtracking through skills that should have been learned already by the students. They are at the equivalent of the 9th grade and I had to explain how is equal to 0.5 for about ten minutes. This was in the middle of a lesson about solving different types of equations which will be on their upcoming exams. Never mind solving equations, they need to know how fractions work first! When I returned later in the week, I was not able to teach that class because of a scheduling conflict with another teacher (no one informed me about the change). Instead, I went into the JHS 1&2 class which has no teacher. They were supposed to be in their “English Self-Study” class but were mostly sleeping. I decided that we should go to the new library which I wrote about in a blog a month ago. Not surprisingly, it was locked and covered in dust/dirt. When I looked at the check-out log, there hadn’t been a book checked-out in over a month. This was extremely disappointing especially since they all were excited to be in the library and rushed to grab storybooks.
Senya wasn’t too far behind last week in disappointments. During one of my days teaching there, I checked on one of our students who hadn’t been coming to school because there was no teacher. The student still wasn’t in the school and there was no instructor for the class, even after we had spoke to the assistant headmaster about it. When I walked in the room to check on the student, the class got up and cheered thinking that I had come to teach them. “You have come to teach us!” one boy exclaimed. I felt like I had no choice but teach them for a little bit. We did a fun little exercise in English and quickly organized a dance competition between some students before I left. Classes with no teacher are becoming a trend in my experience here and I don’t know what is worse, a class with no teacher or a student who is not coming to school at all. My only saving grace last week was during a lesson in Senya where I used bananas as a prize for the best students of the day. After giving them all out I noticed that every child who received one would share it with everyone around them. I’m pretty sure that by the end of class, every student had a piece of banana. How they all shared without even thinking about it really made me happy and kept a smile on my face the rest of the day.
LABOUR & TRAFFICKING
Last week I wasn’t able to get much done on the Labour & Trafficking project. Like I mentioned in my last post, after discussing the farm plans with Eric, CHF’s executive Director, the cost of the land is too high for us. Ideally I would like to negotiate with the chiefs in the area to reconsider their price or work out some kind of deal with us so the community can benefit from the thousands of acres of unused land. If that won’t be possible, I have ideas about partnering with another organization or reaching out to land owners who need assistance cultivating their land. Before I make any more plans with the project, I am focusing on some of the other initiatives that I proposed so I can get some of that up and running.
Last weekend was spent in paradise or a beach resort in Cape 3 Points. It is the southernmost point in Ghana and claims the most pristine beaches in the country, which I will vouch for. You are surrounded by a forest preserve and large rubber and palm plantations. The closest town has about 300 residents and there is not much else besides that. A truly beautiful place…
Last Wednesday I organized a school cleanup day in Senya Beraku for Day Star Academy which is a school where CHF sends a handful of sponsored children. The owner of the school, Hayford, is also our local coordinator who I have built a great friendship with. Each week I typically run over there to say hello and set up our plan for interviews and other business for the week. I’ve become close with the teachers and students and have taken a personal interest in improving the school partly because of the dedication of the staff and partly because of how well behaved the children are (about 90 students). The school building itself is very new and still under construction with missing roofing sheets and rudimentary scrap wood walls. The classrooms have dirt floors and the bathroom is a group of bushes about 30 yards from the building. Some of the classes don’t have enough desks for all the students, forcing them to sit on the floor, while in others the students squish three or sometimes four student into a desk made for two. Needless to say, there is a lot of work to be done which will require a good amount of capital which is especially hard to raise in an impoverished community like Senya Beraku.
One thing that has bothered me since I arrived in Ghana is the amount of trash strewn everywhere, particularly the black plastic bags. The schoolyard at Day Star Academy was no exception. Small thorny bushes cover the yard and are perfect for snagging plastic bags and other debris blown in by the ocean breeze. Each time I walked over to the school, I would cringe at how much garbage was laying around and how the children usually congregated on a dirt patch instead of playing on the trash covered grass. Like most other places in Ghana, there is no waste bin in sight, and the small amount of garbage that is collected is burned a few meters from the classrooms. About two weeks ago I told Hayford that I wanted to have a school cleanup day and that I would provide the school with a waste bin and a recycling bin for their water rubbers which can be traded in for money (think 5 cent return for a soda can). He thought it was a great idea and told me that I just needed to pick a day and time.
We decided on last Wednesday and I made arrangements with the school canteen to have enough snacks and water for all the students and the teachers. I also gave Hayford money to buy the waste bins because I knew he would be able to get a better price for them than I would. When I introduced the idea to the students, their reaction was mixed between excitement, blank stares and probably some confusion. I know some were excited because I told them that the money raised from recycling the water rubbers would go to buying footballs, textbooks and other school materials. When I arrived on Wednesday morning, I was surprised by how prepared everyone was. There was a pile of about 10 cutlasses (machetes) which the boys brought to help weed the schoolyard. They were outside sharpening them when I arrived and I could tell they were anxious to get started. Some of the girl had brought rakes and the neighboring mechanic was happy to loan his for a few hours. After assembling the school outside and splitting them into different groups, we let them loose on the yard. The youngest kids were the infantry, responsible for picking all of pieces of garbage and water rubbers from the ground. The older kids were responsible for weeding, raking and any other more labour intensive tasks. The little kids turned out to be AMAZING! They were garbage picking machines and their youthful energy kept them going for about an hour and a half. They would even run over and take the garbage out of my hands as soon as I picked it. After awhile they were making me feel lazy because I didn’t have to walk anywhere to throw it away! The older kids knew what they wanted, a football field, and what needed to be done to make this a reality. The teachers were pretty active in supervising and I could tell that they were enjoying themselves, even if only because they were out of the classroom. By the end, everyone was dirty, sweaty, tired, thirsty, but most of all happy with a sense of accomplishment. After washing their hands, the students lined up to receive the bananas, sweet buds (doughnuts) and water I had bought for everyone. The end result was a huge pile of garbage which we, unfortunately, had to burn. I absolutely hate this but there is no money for collection and if we didn’t burn it, it would have all blown back by the end of the day! The students were proud of their clean schoolyard and the waste bins which they were eager to use. Overall, it was an amazing day. The energy those kids smiles gave me kept me going all week. They kept thanking me but I couldn’t take any of the credit. The students and teachers were the ones who took charge in cleaning up their own school and created some school and personal pride. All I did was to give them the idea and basic tools which made this possible. All for under $20 USD….
I miss and love you all,
Last week was dominated by Ghana’s Independence Day and the preparations for it by my school children. I was struck by how proud the children were to participate in the festivities and the sense of pride displayed for this still young country. Some issues have surfaced at Senya DA Primary with a child we sponsor which has revealed some serious lapses in the management of the school.
Like I mentioned, because of Independence Day I wasn’t able to teach full lessons this week in Senya or at Nali School in Kasoa. I got through half a lesson in Senya before the drumming (seen here) began outside for marching practice and after two minutes of trying to talk over it, I gave up with a horsed voice. The next day I was able to get through most of a lesson about comparative adjectives before the drumming but was having such a good time with the kids that I brought them outside to enjoy the sights/sounds. It was on this day that I realized how much I loved these kids and teaching them. As difficult as they have been at times, it has been one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Even when I don’t try, I am learning something new every day about the kids, the culture/life in Ghana or life in general. I don’t think they will ever realize how much they have changed my view of the world and have influenced my time here.
LABOUR & TRAFFICKING
Last week I met with a member of the royal family in Senya Beraku to make sure that we were consulting the right people about land ownership. His name is Nicholas and was kind of what I expected from a royal family member; old, fat, slow talking and slow moving with a cane and a jolly laugh. Overall, he was a very nice guy and supportive of our operations in Senya. Most importantly, he confirmed that who we had been dealing with, a sub-chief, is the right person. We were also able to set up a meeting later in the week with this sub-chief to discuss some details about cost, project plans and how to proceed from here. While the cost of the land if cheap for the area, it is very expensive for CHF. I have been thinking of fundraising ideas and alternatives for this project. More to come on that next week.
While I was teaching on Tuesday, I sent Freeman up to the other block at the school to check on one of our sponsored students who hadn’t been attending school. At the beginning of the term he stopped coming because the teacher was out on maternity leave and there was no replacement. This left the surrounding teachers to try and patch together lessons but ultimately left the kids, class 2, alone for eight hours a day. He found that the boy wasn’t in school and there was still no teacher. More surprisingly, when Freeman was walking by the class 1 room where we have two sponsored students, the teacher was kissing the class 4 teacher in front of the class! Just another drop in the bucket of ridiculousness at Senya DA Primary. After that incident we talked to the assistant headmaster about the teacher situation for class 2. He told us that they administration only learned of the teachers maternity leave the previous week and that they have placed a permanent teacher in the classroom. Freeman and I gave each other looks because even Freeman knew the teacher was pregnant last term and had been out for 7 weeks now. Also, he told us the “permanent” teacher was the floating Fantse (local language) teacher who spends his days going to most other classrooms for lesson. Since the beginning of this term, I have never seen him in the class 2 room. Knowing that the assistant headmaster was feeding us complete bullshit, we asked if they could switch our student to the other class 2. He told us this was “not possible” unless we re-enrolled the student because the two blocks are run by different headmasters (again…bullshit). Basically this is just a way for the school to get more money out of CHF because we would have to pay the school fees again. Frustrated and seeing that this conversation was going nowhere, Freeman told the assistant headmaster that we would come back to straighten things out. Personally, I would take the boy to a different school and discontinue using this school to sponsor kids in. Government schools are notoriously mismanaged and known for poor instruction and overcrowding.
We were unable to perform any trafficking interviews last week because the children or parents of the children were not present. We did, however, stumble upon a serious situation where an individual has been impersonating a CHF employee and taking kids to work in Accra. We discovered this while talking to an adolescent boy who we thought would be good for the apprentice program I would like to start up. Apparently, the man had been impersonating another organization that operates in the area but switched because of a disagreement he had with our local coordinator. The boy we were interviewing, John, said that the man took him to Accra to labour in a bakery for 30 Cedis a month, or $15 per month. Luckily, he realized that this man was just exploiting him and not actually from our organization and returned to Senya. He would like to learn to weld and we are trying to set him up with a shop in Accra. As for the impersonator, we are going to speak with him and threaten police action if he continues. I have also suggested making identification cards for our interviews and to wear shirts with the CHF logo on it. Eric laughed at my t-shirt suggestion because I have been asking for a shirt for months but I am serious about it and think it is a low-cost way to ensure our credibility in the community.
I didn’t travel anywhere last weekend because one of the volunteers left on Tuesday and she wanted to have a farewell dinner in Accra. Now there are only three volunteers including myself left until more come at the end of the month.
As I said in the introduction, last Wednesday was Independence Day here in Ghana. This year marks 56 years of independence from British colonial rule and it is this young age which brings perspective to the problems Ghana is facing. It made me think about where the US or any developed country stood when they were 56 years old. In 1832 Andrew Jackson was the president and there were only 24 states at the time. The US government acquired the land for Florida, began removing Native Americans from the east coast in what became known as the “Trail of Tears”, the Oregon Trail became the primary route for settlers, slaves were still being imported from West Africa (Ghana) and there was a cholera epidemic in New York City. While we live in different times, I feel that some of Ghana’s growing pains are typical of any new country working to establish a functioning government and productive society. To celebrate Independence Day, Freeman, Victoria and I went to Accra for dinner and to check out what was going on. We were able to watch some fireworks and attended an all-night concert at the football stadium (we didn’t stay all night). While it was nothing compared to the feeling I get during the Fourth of July (I have realized that celebrations in Ghana are much more subdued unless they are Fetish funerals) it was nice to get out and join Ghanaians in celebrating their independence.
On my way to Kasoa one morning last week, I passed by a bar which had just caught on fire. Like many others, I stopped to watch and see if there was anything I could do to help. The first thing that struck me was the men running with buckets of water and shoveling sand onto the fire. When you think of fires back home, one always envisions fire trucks and emergency crews at the scene. Here there were just the other shopkeepers helping their neighbor save their livelihood as if it was their own shop. Men were standing in the street stopping taxis and asking for their fire extinguishers which are required in all passenger carrying vehicles. Most drivers were willing to give them up and the extinguishers were quickly passed along to someone inside the bar trying to put the flames out. It was quite a scene. To the left of the bar were what I assumed to be the owners, on the ground devastated and crying as their business was falling apart in front of their eyes. While this was going on a man walked up to me and said “We called the fire service but they are not coming.” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t imagine the feeling if the only people you could call to help ignored your pleas. It made the efforts of those trying to put out the fire even more significant. They knew that the fire service was never going to come and in Ghana I don’t even think anyone would truly rely on the fire or police services. I was on my way to teach so after snapping a few photos, I pulled myself away and continued on my way. On my 45 minute ride to Senya, I couldn’t stop thinking about this fire. We have been so spoiled in the US to think that if something catches on fire, you can call the fire department. If you business is lost, you can collect the insurance money and rebuild. If there is someone to blame for the fire, you can sue and receive money for the damages and lost income. Here, there are none of those safety nets. If you even call the fire service, nothing guarantees that they come. If your building burns down, there is no one there to write you a check and help you rebuild. If it was the electric companies fault that a fire started, good luck with trying to get money from them. It is a truly devastating situation. I could tell from the anguish on the faces of the owners that they lost their only source of income, and their entire inventory to the fire. Fittingly, my lesson that day mentioned the police department. I asked if the children knew the phone number for the police, fire, or ambulance services (they are 191, 192 and 193 respectively). Not a single hand went up…
I miss and love you all,
This past week marks five months here in Ghana and I can’t believe how fast the time has went. I can remember my first day here like it was yesterday and the whirlwind of experiences since then. The project I have been working on has opened my eyes to a whole world that I never knew about and introduced me to some remarkable people. I can only hope that the next few months will be filled with the same excitement and I will be able to see my project ideas come to fruition.
Teaching at two different schools has taken over a large chunk of time during the week that would otherwise be devoted to the Labour & Trafficking project. Fortunately, I have really enjoyed instructing these kids and I use it as my motivation booster every week. In addition, it gets me out of the office which is the biggest benefit of all (I don’t think I’m an office person)! My class in Senya DA Primary continues to be very enjoyable. The only problem I have been having with them is tardiness. They have their first break of the day, or recess, right before my class and it sometimes takes 15-20 minutes to get them all in the classroom again. Nothing I seem to do encourages them to be on time so I have just started to accept it and begin teaching as the kids trickle in. On Tuesday I split the class into teams and they responded to that very well. It might have been the first time a teacher has made them work in groups because they didn’t quite understand that they could work with their partner to read and answer the questions. Towards the end of that class the students were having trouble focusing. One of the permanent teachers had stopped by to ask me if I could tell him when I was done with my lesson so he could cane some of the children who had been late to school. Immediately I could see a change in some of the students who would be caned and the class didn’t want to participate. Towards the end of the lesson they begged me to tell the teacher not to cane them. They even showed me the “dance” kids do when they are getting caned. When I dismissed the class, not a single student got up! It was one of those situations where it was such a sad sight that I had to laugh. I did tell the teacher to take it easy on them because they were the best students, but I knew that there was no way out of it.
Teaching at Nali School has improved from the previous week. The class seems more comfortable with me and they have realized that I will make them answer questions and challenge themselves the whole time I am there. The school itself is a sad situation that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. They lost two teachers during the week and have been instructed not to hire anymore. The students are typically great kids but you can’t help but get the feeling that the education system in Ghana, and the school, has failed them tremendously. Walking into a classroom is so depressing when there is no teacher and the kids are either sitting there with blank faces or sleeping. Some of the students have such low confidence levels because they have spent years or months without proper instruction and no one encouraging and reinforcing their skills. One boy, who has a learning disability, always tells me he can’t read but when I finally get him to, reads to the class pretty well. He still insists, though, that he can’t read because that is what he has always been told or has not been shown that he can do well in school. When I begin teaching and realize the class hasn’t learned material that should have been covered because it will be on their final exam, it makes me angry. It also makes me upset because I realize that if these kids want to progress to senior high school, I have to begin teaching for the exam instead of having the time to give them a well rounded education. Because the end of the term is approaching, I don’t have much time with this class. Hopefully I will be able to help some of them on their final exams or at least encourage them to continue their educations.
LABOUR & TRAFFICKING
Last week was a typical “two steps forward, one step back” for the L&T project. In the beginning of the week I met with a senior high school teacher whose information I had received from our Senya coordinator. He is an agriculture teacher who specializes in animal husbandry, but has farmed in the past. Our meeting went very well and I was also able to meet with the head of the Agriculture Department at the school to pitch some cooperative ideas. The school has no land to apply what they learn in the classroom so I thought it would be a good way to give the children some practical experience and possibly use them to train others. Being that we haven’t even secured the land yet, I made sure they understood that this was just a preliminary meeting and that I would be in contact within the coming months to set up something more formal. I was very encouraging by how responsive they were to my ideas and the chance to give back to the community. Later on in the week, Freeman and I went to the Non-Formal Education Division of the Ghana Education Service to explore what kind of adult education programs they operate in the area. The woman we met with, Joycelynn, was very helpful and gave us times and locations for their training sessions and contact information for the facilitators. It turns out that their classes are winding down and they will be looking for new recruits in the coming weeks. I want to go observe and evaluate the program next week before we decide to send people there or partner with them. The “one step back” last week was a cancelled meeting with a member of the Senya royal family. I want to consult with him about our land acquisition and make sure we are going about it in the right way and speaking with the correct people. There are many cases of land being sold by people who don’t actually own it and then the land has to be forfeited when the true owners learn about it. The man I was supposed to meet with was busy when we were supposed to meet and I had to reschedule for the following week. On top of that, our Senya coordinator wasn’t prepared to conduct any trafficking interviews that day so besides for teaching, it was an unproductive trip to Senya. It gets very frustrating sometimes when I go into something with so much motivation and a clear game plan, and just get shot down every step of the way, especially when it is from others laziness or lack of organization!
One of the volunteers left last Saturday so we didn’t travel anywhere over the weekend. Instead we went out for her last night in Accra and I went to the beach on Saturday. I think I need to take a break from the sun for a few days because it has been so strong and my skin is pretty crispy!
On Thursday I picked up a package from my parents which finally arrived after a little over a month. I had asked them to send some literacy materials for the adult education program I want to set up or to improve an existing one. In the package there were also some puppets that my mom wanted me to use to help my students learn. I forgot that she had told me this and instead gave one of the dolls away to the girl down the street from the office, Rabia. Her face was all I needed to know that it was the right decision. She might have been, or still is, the happiest girl on Earth with the doll. Her mother told my colleague that she has to keep cleaning it because the little girl feeds the doll her food before she will eat it!
A couple of years ago I asked my sister how she made it through two years in China without seeing the family. It was during the holiday season and I was in Colorado missing my family, which is particularly hard during holidays and special occasions. She told me that it is tough sometimes but you have to surround yourselves with great people who act as your family. This is what got me though some times in Colorado and has certainly been a factor while here in Ghana. Recently, I have been occasionally eating dinner with another host family and the interns living there. Besides from the issues I face with my host mother, I think the reason I enjoy their dinners so much is because we all sit around the table and talk like my family would back home. I have always said that my favorite thing in the world is eating dinner with my whole family. It is what I think about when I miss them and my favorite part about coming home. I can admit that I am guilty for going over there subconsciously wanting to be invited for dinner because then I can relax and feel “at home.” Their host mother, Auntie Josephine, reminds me so much of my grandmother and always makes me feel like her own son when I am at her house. Like my sister said, it is the great people you surround yourself with who become your family no matter where you are and can give you that little taste of home.
I miss and love you all,